There it goes again, that loud, obnoxious, and extremely annoying buzzing sound that seems to be coming from somewhere nearby. The sound is some how familiar but I can’t quite make it out. As my mind struggles toward consciousness, I realize that it is the sound of the alarm clock next to the bed. I roll over and see that the clock reads 2:30. Wait, it’s still dark outside so that must be a.m. I’m on vacation, so why is the alarm going off at this unholy hour? As I come fully awake, I realize that this is the morning that we have planned to experience the sunrise from the highest point on Maui, the summit of the Haleakala volcano. After quickly getting ready, we hit the road from our Kihei condo at 3:00 a.m. in order to be at the summit in time for sunrise and in time to find a parking spot at the Pu’u ‘Ula’ula Overlook at the summit. Here there is a glass enclosed overlook which can be very handy with chilly temperatures and often windy conditions, but more about that later.
By the time we traveled the winding road to the summit, it was about 5:15 by the time we arrived. Being a little early was a good thing but cause we found a parking spot without any difficulty and we were able to stake out a prime viewing site before the crowds started arriving a few minutes later. Slowly, at first almost imperceptibly, the eastern sky began to lighten and then turn a thousand shades of purple, red, and orange as the sun crept above the horizon. This morning was spectacular. While the sky above was clear, the crater was filled with clouds which reflected and intensified the colors. Words are inadequate to describe the spectacular transition from night to day and the beauty of the ever changing colors. This was truly an experience not to be missed, regardless of how early you have to get up.
The sunrise is a great way to start you visit to Haleakala National Park but should by no means be the only thing that you do while there. After witnessing the spectacular sunrise, we drove back toward the park entrance to the Visitor's Center where there are exhibits showcasing the park’s natural and cultural history. While in the park look for the beautiful but endangered Silversword plant, there is a beautiful specimen in front of the Visitor's Center. You also may encounter the Nene, Hawaii’s state bird. Although they looked spectacular, we did not hike any of the trails in the crater. We were not accustomed to the altitude and simply walking from the car to the overlooks left us feeling winded. We did however; hike a beautiful trail near the entrance of the park at Hosmer Grove. This short trail leads through a beautiful eucalyptus grove where numerous species of birds, trees, and wildflowers can be seen.
Haleakala National Park which was established in 1916, covers over 27,000 acres and stretches to the southern coast of Maui. There is a $10 fee that allows unlimited visits to any section of the park for seven days and is good for either section of the park.
While this sunrise from the summit was one of the highlights of our trip to Maui, the following advice, or “lessons learned” will make your visit even more enjoyable. First, if at all possible, see the sunrise your first morning in Hawaii if you are visiting from the mainland United States. From our home in the Midwest, the time difference was five hours so, if we’d gone the first morning, before our bodies had adjusted to Hawaiian time, it would have been much easier to have gotten out of bed as early as you must in order to be there by sunrise. Because we’d spent the first part of our trip on Oahu, it was our eight day in Hawaii before we went to see the sunrise and getting up at 2:30 in the morning was just as difficult as it would have been at home.
My second piece of advice requires me to do something that no man wants to do, admit that my wife was smarter (at least this once) than me. I mean after all, it was June and we’re going to a tropical paradise, so why on earth would anyone waste space in a suitcase for a jacket? Great idea for her, not so smart for me. Before sunrise, at 10,000 feet, tropical paradise or not, it was COLD!!! OK, cold is a relative thing, but the morning that we were there, the temperature on the nifty thermometer in the rental car was 38 degrees. That might feel warm in Alaska in January but I wasn’t expecting that in June in Hawaii. At least I’d been warned by someone at the condo and did take a blanket which helped, but guys, let’s face it; it is not easy to watch your wife smile at you from her warm jacket while sporting that “I told you so” look on her face.
The road to the summit is winding and narrow with numerous switchbacks so you should allow yourself plenty of time. The drive from the bottom of the Haleakala Highway takes at least an hour and a half plus travel time to there from where ever you are staying. The drive was about 45 minutes from our condo in Kihei so an early start is a must if you plan to be there for the sunrise. The drive is remarkable not only for the natural beauty that you will see on the return trip, but also for the fact that you can drive from sea level to an elevation of 10,023 feet above sea level in only 38 miles and just under 2 hours! Be very careful and especially observant on your return trip down the mountain as there will be numerous people on bicycles coasting down the mountain. Several tour operators take hundreds of people daily to witness the sunrise and then ride down the mountain on bicycles. Where else can you ride downhill for 38 miles? As an avid cyclist, that sounded like a lot of fun but maybe next trip.
So, was it worth getting out of bed at 2:30 on vacation? For me, seeing the sunrise form the highest point on Maui was one of the highlights of our trip. Plan ahead and follow the advice above for the best possible experience, however, there is an element of luck involved. The morning that we went the weather conditions were perfect for a spectacular sunrise. I might not be as excited about the experience if conditions had not produced such a gorgeous sunrise but I think that the whole experience is worth losing a little sleep. I can’t wait to do it again the next time I’m on Maui. I do plan to follow my own advice though, we’ll go as early I the trip as possible and (hard as it is to admit) I’ll listen to my wife and take a jacket.